Here is from an engagement session yesterday with Emily and Vic. Guess when their wedding is!
Actually, this session was supposed to take place last weekend, but the weather was acting as if it were late March/early April, which is to say cold, windy, and rainy. We though about doing it next weekend, when the weather is supposed to be 90-something, meaning that I would need a Gatorade I.V. Instead, we settled on the best evening possible…perfect sunlight, wonderful temperature, an excellent spot in the Azalea Garden all to ourselves.
Emily and Vic are friends with Hannah and Mitch, whose wedding I shot (and whose new-born I also got to take portraits of) a couple New Yearses ago…thanks to them for the referral! I had to scour the wedding pictures to see if Emily and Vic were in any of the shots, but somehow they seem to have escaped my camera for the evening. They will not be so lucky come August next.
Emily and Vic both love reading, and they brought along some of their favorite books. I was happy to see The World of Pooh in there, as that is a book that I sometimes read to my older daughter. Emily and Vic did a bit of reading, and then it was off to the Philadelphia Museum of Art…from lush vegetation to wonderful stone architecture, with a spiffing door and a skyline thrown in for good measure.
Love it. Another successful example of a couple who said, “We are dang awkward with cameras,” and who then proceeded to rock it out like old pros.
Jeanette and Brian’s wonderfully beautiful wedding is solid proof that you should never think that Plan C would be any worse than Plans A and B. After all, this was not where the wedding was supposed to be. It was supposed to be outside in the Azalea Garden. But there was a change of officiants, and there was a change of weather, and since outdoor weddings aren’t so great when it is grey and drizzly and the ground is soaked, we ended up at Philadelphia Wedding Chapel, with With This Ring’s Stacey Thomas presiding.
I’m such a sucker for a beautiful room. Brides are always beautiful, and no doubt that Jeanette brung it in the best of fashion (I especially appreciated that her hair didn’t look as if it had been shellacked, and that her jewelry was simple and elegant); I think that wearing a gown just brings out the best in how a bride carries herself. But a brilliant room makes such a difference, so if you are reading this, and you are looking for a place to get married, please consider a place that has lots of brick and gigantic windows. Or some other amazing, visually interesting venue. Preferably with gigantic windows.
So there was a bit of planning drama during the week running up to the wedding, but always remember: at the end of the day, you are going to be married, and it is the little hiccups during the day, such as the flower girls fleeing the scene, or the weather driving you inside to a really wonderful ceremony space, that can often stand out as the highlights.
And Jeanette and Brian were yet another wonderful, laid-back, easy-going couple. Favorite moment of the day: Brian was getting a bit itchy with all the family group shots, so when it came time to photograph just him, Jeanette, and their two girls, he just laid down on the floor, assumed his parental duties as a portable jungle gym, and we had a few minutes of ridiculousness and ludicrosity rolling around on the floor. I ended up on my stomach, and we got a few really good shots. The quality of wedding photography can really come down to how expressive the couple is, and these two were great in that regard.
All the best to Jeanette and Brian!
A very warm congratulations to Keiwana and Chris, who were married this past October at the Waterworks in Philadelphia. They are a relaxed and beautiful couple, and I was happy to be able to work with them at a classic venue. I only had one short hour with them, but it was a great hour.
Keiwana and Chris both were the kind of people who just sort of melted into the camera. I love it when I’m trying to think of something, and I say, “Maybe how about just sort of like…” trying to use syllables to buy myself a bit more time, and all of a sudden, his or her head tilts just the right way, and their lips curl up into just THE right smile, and I get to take the picture and look as if I’m the one who knows what I’m doing.
The Waterworks is like that as a venue, as well. There is a very good reason that it is perpetually clogged with photographers…it has so many interesting lines and details that it is difficult to use it as a backdrop in any way and get something that is unattractive. It plays super-well with light, and is an incredibly diverse setting. It’s such a good setting that I’ve seen it used as a venue in professional training videos.
True to the name of the venue, the waterworks were certainly turned on before, during, and after the ceremony. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: crying brides are awesome. Being surrounded by crying family members makes it all that much better. Once things get loosened up with a little bit of tears at the ceremony, the outpouring of emotions during the dinner and toasts seems so much freer.
And a big thank you again to Stacy Litz of Liberty Weddings for classy, thoughtful, no-nonsense officiating. Please look her up.
Congratulations to Kathleen and Sam, married in May at St. Peter the Apostle Church in North Philadelphia. I’ve been riding a hot streak of couples who are laid-back, easy-going, and enjoyable to work with; Sam and Kathleen continued the trend, and it was a great day.
I’m always amused by families that constantly apologize for the hubbub surrounding bridal preparations. So let me just put it out there right now: chaos and a bit of a mess are well within normal parameters for a wedding day, and the closer the limo the departure time, the more chaos there tends to be. Please understand that this sense of chaos is a symptom of the wedding-day excitement, and the resulting flurry of activity is a great source for images. It really is my favorite part of the day, unless you are like that father of the bride several weddings ago, when I was working for another photographer, who threatened to punch me in the face. hat wasn’t my favorite part of the day, but I can say, to my credit, that I did not get punched, and did so with a smile on my face. I can work with people, you know.
We’ll get on to portraits and such in the next post. But for now, thanks again to Kathleen and her family, as well as Sam, for giving me another wonderful day of shooting.
When the bride’s brother makes his first appearance on a bicycle in the middle of a street closed down for a movie shoot, and he’s got his tux in a bag slung over his shoulder, and he’s wearing orange sunglasses, and the whole gang is on their way to a Rittenhouse Square restaurant brunch, you know it’s going to be a good day. Having the bride and groom be good and valuable friends of yours makes it all the better. Having a number of good and valuable friends among the guests…well, I might just have to put my camera down and dance a bit.
But, given the convenient convergence of my professional duties and my general aversion to musically induced physical destabilization, I just went on doing what I do better.
So my wife is friends with Amy, and Amy is friends with Lora, and I was introduced to Lora years ago at Ferry Fest, Amy’s band’s annual summer music…uh…thing, I guess you could call it, and when I first met her, she was described as John’s brother, and I used to work with John, who replaced Jackie (who is married to Bob), and Jackie lives across the street from the stop where my wife gets off the bus after work. So it’s a big happy circle. My memory might be a bit fuzzy here, but I believe that I met Dylan a few years after that, also at Ferry Fest, the Ferry Fest from which I have awesome video footage of Dylan crashing a man-tricycle in pretty gnarly fashion. I haven’t said yet that Ferry Fest used to happen in Harper’s Ferry (also the name of the band) WV at one campground, until they went dry, and then at a KOA until, because of a lack of dryness, some of the band’s peripherals used, at an hour that was very, very a.m., rougher than necessary language with the campground manager, who, after the fact, let the band know that the final Ferry Fest at that facility had been a good time for the most part up until about the last six minutes.
That was a digression, but I feel it needed to be said.
After brunch, it was back to the Courtyard Marriott in Center City. Let me say this about Courtyard Marriotts: I find that they have ridiculously photogenic rooms. That shot I was raving about a while back, the one that I said was the best photo I’ve ever taken? Courtyard Marriott in North Wales. In one of the rooms that you or I could rent if we were passing through and wanted to spend the night next to a Chili’s and across the street from a mall. The one in Center City is just as good, although I find myself wishing they didn’t have things like sofas and large screen tvs under all of their amazingly awesome windows.
Aside from the rooms that look like butter (that’s a colloquialism there…the rooms don’t actually look like yellow milk fat. That being said, this blogger is a guy who likes his butter), I got to witness my first bridesmaid-dress-lacing-up conga line:
That’s a good place to leave it for now. More to come.
You’ll please excuse me while I have a love affair with window light. Of all the things I have learned over the past six months, it is this: turn off the lights in the room and let the windows work their magic.
In photography, when we talk about light, there are at two major things to consider: quantity of light, i.e. how much of the stuff there is, and whether there is enough to get a good image, and quality of light, i.e. how hard or soft it is, and whether it is directional or not. Windows give a wonderfully soft, directional light that can be used to create a number of lighting effects. There might be a tendency to think that the more light the better, but this is not at all true; great lighting creates some type of effect by negotiating differences in light and shadow.
As a general rule, diffused sunlight is beautiful, and there’s lots of it. Artificial lighting, whether incandescent, fluorescent, or something else, looks odd-colored, especially when mixing with sunlight. Best just to leave it to the sunlight, even if the room looks a bit dark. Trust me. It’s probably perfect.
Sometimes a warm light with heavy shadows creates a rich, opulent feel. Shift the camera or the subject just a bit, and the same source can create an open, airy high-key look. This is possible when the room is not flooded with even, artificial lighting, and the photographer leaves the flash in the bag.
Last Saturday, I took the best photograph of my life. It was a bit of a surprise to me, and it took several hours for it to dawn on me exactly what I had done. It started to click that I had a special capture when, throughout the evening, I kept taking out that card and scrolling through the images to find that One.
The image is excellent in the way classical portraits are excellent. It is technically sound, of course, but it is by no means fancy or elaborate. It is a couples shot of a bride’s maternal grandparents. The grandmother is seated and dressed in green traditional Pakistani garb. The grandfather is standing behind her and wearing a suit with a red sweater vest. The pose is dictated by their tradition. It was shot in a room in a Courtyard Marriott in the suburbs, and the only light is available window light. No fancy lighting, a very traditional composition, no specific posing…just two exceptional faces, beautiful light, and something intangible.
It looks great printed on Hahnemuhle Bamboo Matte 290gsm paper.
I arrived at being able to shoot this image slowly. In general, I think I’m a pretty good portraitist, especially if I really have time to work with people. I enjoy the engagement of personalities, the conversation, the figuring out of what emotions and expressions best convey a sense of the person, and which emotions and expressions make for the most compelling images. I favor simple lighting even when using strobes, and my use of lighting hasn’t changed much over the years, because good light is good light, and good light is usually simple, warm light. A lot of posing looks unnatural to me, even if it can be compositionally dynamic, so I don’t use it too often. In short, I haven’t changed that much about how I shoot portraits. If you look at my portfolio over time, there is incremental improvement, and a strengthening of style, but it is nothing dramatic. Images flow from one to another in a nice continuum of betterment.
Then, all of sudden, something changed. I shouldn’t say all of a sudden. I took this winter, when I wasn’t shooting as much, to undertake some training (specifically, kelbytraining.com was my greatest single source of learning), so I came to my first wedding of the season certainly with some new knowledge jumping around in my mind, and it came in handy in the first hour of the shoot. I didn’t learn anything revolutionary. There was no head-slapping, heart-stopping, cloud-parting moment when the secrets were revealed (because in photography, there really aren’t any secrets, and I find the technical aspects of it to be relatively uninteresting), but there was a slow nudge toward better awareness of what I was doing and what the light was doing.
There’s a philosophical debate about change of type versus change of kind, i.e., how much a thing can change before it is no longer just a different type of the same thing, but a new kind of thing all together. My photography is always inching forward, and it is difficult, from inside, to notice significant amounts of change because they happen slowly. But this image was something special…a different kind, not just a better type.
I am saying all of this with the knowledge that I cannot share the image with you. In a way, that’s good, because wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve like this on the internet is just asking for people to jump in and say this image that I find so compelling is nothing special at all. So perhaps it is best that you be left with me just waxing poetic about it, and you just having to imagine (or meeting me in person to see it). The bride and groom have their own privacy concerns and don’t want the images on the web, and that’s just as well…as I’ve gone through this year and my print-per-day project, I’ve reacquainted myself with the importance of the printed image, and the evanescent nature of the digital image. This is an image that demands to be in print, and, in fact, it was print #100 in my project. A small handful of my friends and family have seen it, and when they have seen it, they have seen it in person, and the image has become a catalyst for storytelling. And like a good story, there is something immediately easy and comfortable about it, and something unique and challenging.
I am glad that I have to show this image to people in person, on paper. They can hold it and put it right up to their noses. The image doesn’t need batteries or electricity (anymore). And I know that, as valuable to me as the image already has become, it will enjoy another life in print, somewhere far away, where friends and family of that old couple can look at it and enjoy how much like them that picture is.
A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of shooting Adam Web and his band at Milkboy in Center City Philadelphia. Adam was releasing his latest CD Pendulum, or album, or digital files collection or whatever…all I know is that physical discs containing music were available for purchase. The show benefited Philabundance, which is a very important hunger charity organization in Philadelphia. Good music, good cause, good venue…what’s better than that?
Adam describes his music as optimistic acoustifunk, and even though I’ve had to explain that term to just about everyone I mention it to, I think it’s actually a pretty non-obfuscatory label, if you know what I mean. And explaining in words what unfamiliar music sounds like is a fools game. But I digress.
Upbeat, happy, songs about loving people and life…it’s good stuff, and the band sounded solid. Of course, they had an electric violin (played by Nyke Van Wyk), and technically that’s cheating in the same way that bacon is cheating in cooking, since once you have an electric violin, or bacon, I mean, where can you go from there?
We’ve seen Maggie here before, as one of her wedding guests practice his flag-twirling skills on her. I met her and Sean through Baltimore super-family The Buettners, and had a great time shooting their wedding up here near Philadelphia. The reception was at the William Penn Inn.
I’ll have a few more from this wedding in a couple days. Until then, keep printing!